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Cody Franson makes quick rise from the doghouse to the penthouse

Cody Franson knocks the puck away from Carolina's Josh Jooris during a game on Nov. 11. (AP Photo)

As a rookie with the Predators in 2009-10, Blackhawks defenseman Cody Franson saw what an All-Star first pairing looks like. And, just as important, what it sounds like.

After nearly every shift, Shea Weber and Ryan Suter sat down on the bench and started talking. They talked about what they saw on the last shift — how their retrievals worked, how the opponent attacked on the rush, how aggressive the forwards were. It was an endless constructive conversation, briefly interrupted by a shift, then right back on.

‘‘They’d talk so much through the course of the game to make it easier on themselves,’’ Franson said. ‘‘And then you’d watch them go out the next shift and execute what they were talking about. It makes you understand just how important a pairing actually is.’’

So while Franson is a 30-year-old veteran in his ninth NHL season, he’s all ears when Duncan Keith starts talking. And Keith almost always is talking.


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‘‘He basically lays out a game plan for you,’’ Franson said. ‘‘There are certain ways he likes to retrieve pucks and certain ways he likes his partner to read off of him that’s a little different than normal. But it’s great. As long as you’re open-eared and listen to what he wants you to do, things tend to go pretty smoothly. Being able to play with Dunc and that level of smarts is a lot of fun.’’

It certainly beats not playing at all, which is how Franson spent most of October. He was a healthy scratch for nine of the Hawks’ first 11 games. Franson did his best to temper his frustration and repeatedly said the Hawks’ coaching staff did a good job of staying in his ear, explaining the situation and preaching patience.

But there were still times when Franson brought his frustration home with him and started second-guessing his decision to turn down contract offers from other teams to take a player-tryout offer from the Hawks. Franson expected to slot right in behind Connor Murphy and Brent Seabrook on the right side. Instead, Jan Rutta’s emergence blocked his path until an injury to Gustav Forsling revealed Rutta and Murphy can play on the left side.

‘‘Don’t get me wrong, there were points where I was mad,’’ Franson said. ‘‘If you’re a player in this league and you’re not playing and you’re happy about it, there’s something wrong with you.’’

But after gritting his teeth for the first few weeks of the season, Franson went from the doghouse to the penthouse in a hurry. With coach Joel Quenneville constantly tinkering with his patchwork blue line, Franson suddenly found himself on the top pairing with a future Hall of Famer and on the top power-play unit, too. And it looks as though he’s there to stay.

Keith and Franson have found a quick chemistry that has helped stabilize the back end. The pairings have been largely unchanged during the Hawks’ 4-1-1 run, and a more active blue line has helped trigger an offensive resurgence for the team, which has averaged nearly four goals during the stretch. Keith credited Franson’s long reach and veteran savvy for blunting opposing rushes and creating quick transitions.

‘‘I really like playing with him,’’ Keith said. ‘‘We both kind of read the game in similar ways and try to use our brain to see the ice and make plays out of the zone.’’

Keith also likes that Franson is as chatty as he is, especially on the ice.

‘‘I learned early on in the minors just how important it is to communicate,’’ Keith said. ‘‘You can’t see everything. If you have that guy talking in your ear, letting you know what you have, it just kind of calms everything down and makes it a lot easier.’’

Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.